Monday, March 30, 2009

The end of VASSAL and MMP? Nah...

Not sure if some of you are aware of this but there was a mini-tempest-in-a-teacup in the past 24 hours or so on ConSimWorld in the MMP folder. First, MMP principal, Brian Youse posted that MMP was suspending VASSAL support for their products. Here's the post. Calm down now, he retracted the company's stance a few hours later here -- much to the relief of many.

Of course there was the usual uproar of geekrage in between -- not without good reason in my opinion. Support for VASSAL and VASL for ASL is critical in some people's eyes to the health of the hobby of ASL and wargaming in general. It's already hard enough to find a face-to-face opponent -- many don't need yet another barrier to entry when it comes to enjoying their games.

Though I can understand the arguments of withdrawing support: MMP must maintain control of their copyright and doesn't want to be supporting electronic versions of their games which are freely distributed etc. etc. -- the way I see it -- and yes, I'm an nothing more than a voice in the wilderness -- VASSAL and the Internet keeps the hobby alive, pure and simple.

A few cogent and well elucidated voices chimed into the discussion. Jay White asked a series of pointed questions to Brian:

1) Are you willing to provide map / counter artwork to a third party so they can make VASSAL modules?

2) If not, are you willing to let customers make their own modules?

3) Are you willing to let individual game designers release VASSAL modules?
i.e. Hans was delivering VASSAL modules for the Gamers series at an alarming rate, and Adam Starkweather said there would be VASSAL modules for his GTS games. Hans seemed to enjoy what he was doing, and I can't see how that would be a drain on MMP's game-designing resources. Which leads me to ask again:

4) What is the reason for the change of heart w.r.t. releasing VASSAL modules, because it can't solely be about draining MMP's workload (based on Hans' enthusiasm..)

5) Are you going to keep existing VASSAL modules online, or will they eventually be removed?

Carl Frederick posted this:

If it's going to be so wonderful, what could possibly be a valid reason for stopping production of Vassal modules in the meantime? From what you're hinting, it's obviously so much better that a handful of Vassal modules produced between now and then can't hurt. This is the part that's got me hacked off. And, I've been in software (and a game buyer) long enough to know that whatever date is being promised on either side won't be kept. And those experiences have made me jaded enough that "trust me it'll be great" causes the exact opposite reaction in me.

Some good questions were asked and some excellent points made. For me personally I see GMT's support of VASSAL versions of their products as a value-add. By far they are the most open company when it comes to making their products available online and it doesn't seem to hurt their popularity or bottomline. I know that GMT will have a VASSAL module of their games so I can either play with others online, set up some quick virtual solo sessions or *gasp* try out their games before I buy them (i.e. I did just this before I bought Manoeuvre).

In the few hours between finding out about losing VASSAL "support" and their rescinding the idea, at least a few posters on CSW were threatening MMP with walking away from pre-orders and closing up their wallets. I admit I was entertaing the same thoughts. Did this flirtation with leaving VASSAL support behind have anything to do with Curt Schilling's newly freed time? Is 38 Studios or Green Monster Games or whatever he's calling it this week doing something with ASL online? All of MMP's products?! Who knows...

I just know this. MMP and wargame companies need VASSAL. Not having a solution to the online issue is ridiculous. Don Greenwood, legendary wargame designer, and head honcho on ASL originally said it best himself, "The Internet saved wargaming." (Listen to his interview on the Point2Point podcast here.)

I'm going to echo Mr. Frederick here but I'm totally on his wavelength... If MMP has an idea in mind that allows them to monetize their IP in VASSAL-like fashion I'm all for it -- just not at the expense of putting an end to all the hard work of their fans who create the VASSAL modules of their games in the meantime. Coming from the world of computer games I've heard the siren song of vaporware more than a few times and the funeral dirges supposedly caused by pirates. As soon as MMP has a workable VASSAL alternative I'd be willing to support it if there was a reasonable cost. I'm sure many of the hobbyists would be more than happy to do so as well.

No comments: